By Cam Huffman
The nation’s most talked about knee, and the rest of the world class athlete that goes with it, will be in Beckley later this month as part of the Big Atlantic Classic basketball tournament.
Tournament director Jim Justice confirmed Friday, while on a grouse hunting trip with his bird dog Lilly, that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will be the speaker for the annual tip-off banquet for the Big Atlantic Classic on Jan. 27 at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
“This is big for us,” said Justice, who has brought in names like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Terry Bradshaw, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Tebow in past years. “He’s surely one of the most popular sports figures today, and he’s somebody I think the kids (participating in the tournament) will identify with. That’s what the Big Atlantic Classic is all about.”
RG3, as he’s widely known, first gained popularity as the 2011 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback of the Baylor Bears. He threw for more than 10,000 yards in his four-year college career, which included a shortened season in 2009 because of a knee injury, as well as rushing for 2,199. He accounted for 110 total collegiate touchdowns and broke nearly 20 school records.
The 22-year-old signal caller really became an icon in his rookie season in the NFL, leading the Redskins to a 10-6 record. After starting 3-6, Washington won its final seven regular season games to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Griffin threw for 3,200 yards and rushed for 815. He threw 20 touchdown passes, compared to just five interceptions, and rushed for seven more scores.
The No. 2 overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft made the 2013 Pro Bowl, the lone non-specialist rookie on the roster.
Griffin’s season didn’t end like he wanted, though. Facing the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC wild card game, Griffin reinjured his knee, which he originally hurt in an overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 9.
The Redskins went on to lose 24-14, and Griffin had surgery repairing both his LCL and ACL this Wednesday. He has not made any public comments since.
The surgery, by all accounts, was successful, but Griffin is still facing a long rehab process and the date of his return to the field is in question.
Justice, who had spoken to Griffin about coming to Beckley before the injury, said he was concerned that the surgery may spoil the plans to get Griffin to West Virginia, but he was able to contact the quarterback through Dr. James Andrews, Justice’s close friend and the surgeon who repaired Griffin’s injured knee. Justice said Andrews, Griffin and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder were all together when Griffin agreed to confirm his appearance, which Justice expects will be one of his first following the surgery.
“I would expect ESPN and everything to be there,” said Justice. “This may be his first public appearance since the injury.”
Dinner will begin at 12:30 p.m., with the program featuring Griffin beginning at 1:30 p.m. Tickets for dinner and the speaker will be $40. There will also be balcony seating for those who just want to hear the speaker. The doors will open at 1 p.m. for those ticket holders, and the cost will be $7.50 for adults and $2.50 for students.
The tickets will be on sale at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center beginning Monday. They can also be purchased online at www.beckleyconventioncenter.com or by calling 1-888-695-0888.
“We’ve had some incredible speakers,” said Justice. “But this may be one of the biggest and the one the kids are excited about the most.”
The Big Atlantic Classic will run Jan. 28 through Feb. 2 and includes middle school boys, middle school girls, high school boys and high school girls competition.
On the high school level, Bluefield, Westside, Tygarts Valley, Valley, Greenbrier West, Moorefield, Wyoming East, Robert C. Byrd, Hampshire, Morgantown, Elkins, Parkersburg South, Point Pleasant, Woodrow Wilson and Lewis County will all participate, along with Justice’s undefeated Greenbrier East team.
Justice also coaches the defending Class AAA champion Greenbrier East girls, currently ranked No. 1 in the state. They’ll be in competition with Parkersburg South, Nicholas County, Preston, George Washington, St. Albans, University and Westside in the girls bracket of the Big Atlantic Classic.
There will also be a boys national game pitting national No. 8 Oak Hill Academy and Montrose Christian head-to-head.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.